If you’re looking for a unique experience to enjoy with the whole family during your Crystal Coast vacation, then a visit to Shackleford Banks needs to be at the top of your to-do list. This barrier island is part of the Cape Lookout National Seashore and is most well-known for being home to wild horses. Visitors to the island can observe (from a distance) the Barrier horses in their natural habitat. Whether you’re taking a guided tour or exploring on your own, this is a worthwhile addition to your Emerald Isle vacation!
What You Should Know Before Visiting Shackleford Banks
Getting to the Island
Before you visit, you’re going to have to decide how to get to Shackleford Banks. Most visitors book passage on one of the nearby passenger ferries. The National Park Service lists a selection of authorized transportation services on their website, so you can easily find which is best for you! Many of the services allow walk-on passengers, but it’s always a good idea to call ahead to get your ticket in advance. The ferries going to the west end of Shackleford Banks depart from Beaufort. If you’re interested in learning more about this sleepy seaside town, check out our blog on our favorite things to do in Beaufort! If you’d prefer heading to the east end, you’ll depart from Harkers Island. Both ferries take online reservations, so it’s easy to get your ticket!
Another way to get on the island is by boat. If you’re bringing your own rig or renting while you’re in Emerald Isle, this is going to be the most convenient option for you. You’ll have the freedom to come and go as you please, and you’ll be able to make a day of sailing around the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Touring the Beaches
Once you’ve arrived on the island, it’s time to start exploring. Visitors are permitted to search the island on their own as long as they maintain a distance from the horses. Remember, these beautiful animals are feral and not accustomed to humans. The Park Service has some outstanding documents that detail how to visit the horses safely and respectfully, as well as how to observe the horse’s behavior. This is a great opportunity to turn a fun adventure in the wild into a learning opportunity for the whole family. You may even inspire your little one to become a future biologist or veterinarian!
Get the Inside Scoop With a Guided Tour
Guests who want to get the full Shackleford Banks experience should plan ahead and book the park’s guided tour. The Cape Lookout National Seashore hosts around six Horse Sense and Survival Tours each year. They only occur once a month from June to November, but they’re an amazing opportunity and definitely worth the extra steps of planning. Reservations are required, so be sure to get your ticket as soon as you book your property with Spinnaker’s Reach!
The tours are considered moderately difficult, as guests will be climbing dune hills, walking in loose sand, and maybe even wading in seawater to get a good spot to watch the horses. A pair of sturdy, closed-toe shoes are a must. We also suggest that you bring bug spray, sunscreen, a wide-brim hat, and plenty of water. Don’t forget your camera, either! You’re sure to find some once-in-a-lifetime snapshot opportunities.
During the walk, your guide will give you a behind-the-scenes look into the behaviors of the horses as well as the park’s management practices. Whether you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind experience to add to your itinerary or you’re an amateur naturalist, this is a must!
Other Cape Lookout National Seashore Activities
While you’re at the seashore, why not check out some of the other things to do?
Visit The Cape Lookout Lighthouse
This iconic structure gives visitors one of the best views in the area. The Cape Lookout Lighthouse was first built in 1859 and is known for its unique “checkered daymark,” which is the structure’s diamond pattern. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the building from Wednesday to Sunday from May to September. The tours start at 9:45 a.m. and last until 4:15 p.m. Tickets to this attraction are just $8 for adults and $4 for children.
Travel Back in Time and Tour Portsmouth Village
Or you can learn about the history of the region at Portsmouth Village. This former sea village is now available for guests to explore. Like the shores of Shackleford Banks, you can catch a tour of Portsmouth Village seasonally. These guided programs are offered from June to September, so guests traveling to the Crystal Coast for their summer vacation should definitely pay a visit. Of course, you can explore the grounds on your own. You can download the audio tour of the village and enjoy at your own pace! Some of the highlights include the old school, post office, general store, Methodist church, and two historic homes. Be sure to bring water, sunscreen, and snacks. Pets are allowed at the national seashore, including the village, so this might be a great activity for the whole family! By the way, did you know that Spinnaker’s Reach has an outstanding selection of pet-friendly properties?
Stay with Spinnaker’s Reach
Nothing feels better after a day of exploring Shackleford Banks than returning to a luxurious rental home with top-notch amenities and a gorgeous view. Spinnaker’s Reach has the best selection of properties in Emerald Isle. No matter the size of your party or the reason for your visit, you’ll find just what you need in our inventory of properties. Plus, guests who book with us get the use of our outstanding neighborhood amenities. Enjoy a dip in the community’s private pool or join us for a special community event! Even better, many of our homes come with their own private amenities, like hot tubs or golf carts.
Check out our full selection and book today! We look forward to having you.